Wireless gear shifting and disc brakes are here whether as prototypes or esoteric options for a bike-build. We can see these trends and extrapolate from them to see the bike of the future.
Electronic shifting has been around for some time but, like a roofrack mounted on a sports car, it can still feel like an unwelcome accessory. Manufacturers are beginning to address this with more integration as cables and battery packs can be placed inside the frame now but we still see the CPU unit attached to the stem with a cable tie. If it has to dangle in the open air you’d hope there would be a more elegant solution like a proprietary clip based on a headset spacer but better still, imagine a stem cap containing a USB port that connects to a CPU unit hidden in the stem or fork steerer so that the battery can be charged anywhere. Our bike of the future will probably have wireless shifting too. Maybe this won’t be as liberating as we might imagine because it could mean four separate items to charge.
It’s possible to have a bike with disc brakes already but it’s rare, as it’s not allowed in competition nor visible in mass-market sales. The bigger point to consider is that simply fitting disc brakes to an existing frame design is only a temporary solution. The position of the brakes changes and therefore the load on the frame and forks changes significantly. No longer is the brake bridge on the rear stays subjected to load, ditto the fork crown. Instead there are strong asymmetric forces on the rear chainstays and forks, each time presumably on the left hand side. Consequently an existing frame design with added brake mounts seems a temporary fix, we should really see a redesign, possibly with beefier left hand stays and forks to cope with the load. In turn if the rim is no longer used for braking we can expect changes in wheel design, essentially thinner sidewalls although the weight gains will surely be small given rims tend to fail on impact or in a crash rather because of wear but the whole hub, axle and dropout concept could be reviewed, we’ll see thru-axles copied across from MTB and maybe 135mm width to give more room for 11 speed and discs in an already crowded space.
Talking of mounts and brakes, the use of Direct Mount brakes from Shimano is rising. Instead of the traditional single bolt, Direct Mount sees the brake caliper attached to the frame or fork via two bolts. It offers a stronger fit and the brake calipers can fit flush with the frame. We can see proprietary brakes fitted on bikes like the Giant Propel too but if discs arrive maybe these will vanish?
Today we still see many bikes with speed and cadence sensors mounted via cable ties. Some manufacturers like Trek and Giant are doing away with this by incorporating Ant+ sensors into frame. It’s a good idea because anything attached to the bike via a zip-tie is signalling a design error.
Tubeless tires seem futuristic but their adoption isn’t happening fast. The pro peloton continues to use tubulars but this is helped by the presence of following cars laden with wheels because a puncture sees the wheel swapped; for the amateur it’s easier to use clinchers and swap out the inner tube. Tubulars look set to live on, at least in the pro peloton. It’s amusing to think our bike of the future relies on sewing.
Power meters are more and more visible. Shimano are said to be working on proprietary power meter and SRAM have bought Quarq. The technology is simple in theory – step on digital scales in your bathroom and you’re using a strain gauge – but accurate data is expensive. New systems arrive but if they have a large margin of error their use isn’t effective. If the data are useful but still reserved for the niche within the upper end of the market, most people just want to ride anyway.
We will also see the rise of FSA which is beginning to sponsor several teams in advance of the release of a wireless electronic shifting groupset. The Taiwanese firm has already been making components and now wants to supply a full groupset. By contrast you wonder about Campagnolo because it has a small market share of component sales but needs big revenues and profits to support the R&D; right now the firm is looking at moving more jobs to Romania prompting a crisis in its Vicenza plant with strikes looming: a case study for the Italian economy as a whole.
UCI rule changes
The advent of disc brakes pre-supposes permission from the UCI. Another possible change is the end of the 6.8kg rule. In order to comply with this rule we’ve seen bikes with added weight, from deep section rims to power meters and more and it still hasn’t been enough to meet the minimum weight. If this rule is scrapped or, say, lowered to 6.0kg then we could imagine more work on lighter bikes.
Will the future be better?
It’s easy to imagine more conservative readers howling at all these new-fangled changes. But did you rail at index shifting or the advent of Shimano STI and Campagnolo Ergopower which brought gear changing to the handlebars? There is a conceptual difference though because we’re moving from the mechanical to the electrical and repairs get that much harder. It’s not uncommon for users of electronic gears to ride home in the 11T after the system fails.
The introduction of press-fit bottom brackets is proof that progress is not always in the right direction. There’s a confusion of options available yet many systems share the problem of creaking under load. Some manufacturers abandoned the seatpost with integrated frames but this trend is reversing now. Both examples show novelties don’t have to become trends.
One final trend is price inflation. As a rough study, bike prices have risen far above the rate of inflation. Showing the data might make for a separate blog piece one day. For now look if we go back to 2000 general price inflation has risen by about 40-50% in Europe and the US so that what you could buy for €/$/£100 in 2000 costs about €/$/£140-150 today. But bike prices have risen a lot more, a team issue bike from 2000 can easily be 400% more expensive in 2015. Of course the comparison is not like for like, today’s bikes have improved significantly so the price rise is partly due to all the new tech on board. The trend is for top end bikes to get ever-more expensive.
It’s easy to think of some futuristic bike, a concept rather than a reality but the future is here: we’re seeing products appear that should become normal in the coming years. Integration of electronics is coming and disc brakes are a big talking point too but their arrival can’t come in isolation, a redesign of the frame and forks is likely. The bike of the future, in in the pro peloton should have the following:
- a weight of 6kg
- wireless electronic shifting serviced by a single USB port with the CPU and battery hidden in the frame
- integrated ANT+ sensors, perhaps powered by the shifter battery
- disc brakes fitted on appropriately designed frame and forks to cope with the asymmetric loads
- wheels re-designed for discs with lighter rims, revised hubs and thru-axles
- a bigger price tag